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Sunday, September 10, 2006

About 9/11

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Jason Audiffred’s father died on 9/11

He Bears the Mark of His Loss Sadly

Published: September 9, 2006

A JAB, and then another, and another and another, almost like the riveting of bolts at a construction site. When the jabbing stopped an hour later, the two towers were soaring again from the Manhattan bedrock, their windows forever tinted red by the evening sun, their majesty forever set against a sky’s lavender sighs.

This is how the World Trade Center always looked, at least from the dusky vantage point of a Starrett City rooftop in Brooklyn, at least in Jason Audiffred’s memory. He would leave his family’s sixth-floor apartment, ascend to the top of the building, and gaze west. Nothing like it, nothing in the world.

Now, at least, this special place had been restored, bolted with ink to Mr. Audiffred’s beefy left bicep by an artist called Coney Island Vinny. The large and arresting tattoo, of course, means that the central catastrophe of our time is a part of him, always, in ways he can never escape.

But, he says, “I want to be reminded.”

At 5-foot-9 and 245 pounds, with a shaved head and a nose sporting a diamond, Mr. Audiffred could be considered imposing, and his trade center tattoo only magnifies that sense. But there is something soft and wounded in his hazel eyes. He is 24, yet often seems on the verge of tears.

“He hasn’t come to terms with it yet,” says his mother, Robin, sitting beside him.

Her son does not disagree.

Early every weekday morning, James Audiffred — Robin’s husband, Jason’s father — would drive west to the trade center, where he joined many other people who quietly kept the colossus clean and functioning. He had many trade center keys on his ring and, after 18 years of service, was operating one of the elevators in the north tower.

“From the 78th floor’s sky lobby to the 107th floor, the Windows on the World,” Jason Audiffred says. He remembers that his father would wear a blue blazer, blue slacks and a white shirt.

This father and son had a typical father-and-son relationship, which is to say loving, complex, occasionally tense, extremely tight. Yes, the father would get on the son for dropping out of high school and hanging around with the wrong people. But the father also played basketball with the son, cut his hair, built a carrying case for his D.J. equipment.

The two also shared a love for the trade center. The father took his only child to work with him so often that the boy knew many employees by their first names. The father also arranged for him to spend a summer as a tour guide on the south tower’s observation deck. “To this day I have the view in my head,” the son says.

On that day nearly five years ago, Mr. Audiffred saw the breaking news on television, raced up his apartment building to that familiar rooftop, and watched the ominous smoke belching from his father’s workplace. James Audiffred went up that morning and never came down. No trace of him was ever recovered. He was 38.

I know there are people who think they're paying respect by gawking at Ground Zero or by saying that all Americans are part of this.

They are full of shit. Not that they mean it, but they are.

You are not part of this and be glad of it. Be very glad you didn't have to see people burning alive or smell them or lose anyone you know. Be glad you didn't have to worry about anyone not coming home.

I want people to understand something.

There is a massive gap between 9/11 the day and 9/11 the event. The event lasted long after people went home, buried their dead and went on with life. It turned into arguments, questions, and most of all a void. That's not transferrable, it's not something you can give. Either you were part of it or you weren't. And if you were, even if you didn't know anyone who died, you saw their faces, read their stories, saw the grief of the living long after everyone else walked away.

And if you weren't, be glad.

Because you'll never know what it's like to look up in the sky and see a hole where two buildings once were. And you'll never have that eerie feeling of seeing the familiar turned into rubble.

posted by Steve @ 12:59:00 AM

12:59:00 AM

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